NEWARK, N.J. (CN) — A leading firearms manufacturer alleges New Jersey is engaged in an “unconstitutional fishing expedition” to try to curtail gun rights by using a new tactic: false advertising claims.
In a federal lawsuit filed in New Jersey on Tuesday, Smith & Wesson claims New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal has tried everything in his power to stymie gun sales, and that he is now sifting through decades of company advertisements and marketing materials in an extra-legal attempt to restrict the right to bear arms.
In October, Grewal filed administrative subpoenas seeking evidence of fraudulent advertising from the gun manufacturer. The subpoenas request documentation related to advertisements that claim firearms make a home safer, an untrained homeowner could use a Smith & Wesson firearm safely and effectively to defend his home, and whether guns enhance one’s lifestyle.
“The Subpoena presents no legitimate inquiry into any purported fraud, and instead targets mere opinions and other protected statements allegedly made by Smith & Wesson,” the company claims. It seeks a court order enjoining the subpoenas and declaring them unconstitutional.
Citing 248 million results in Google searches of “do guns make you safer” as proof that many Americans believe firearms make them safer, Smith & Wesson says New Jersey’s false advertisement subpoenas should be a dead-end legal theory.
Smith & Wesson also says the subpoenas are politically motivated, noting that Grewal has partnered with several anti-Second Amendment groups, like Do Not Stand Idly By, to seek new methods to restrict gun ownership.
The complaint notes that at a conference at New York University earlier this month, participants allegedly observed how consumer protection and false advertising laws were fertile ground for new anti-gun initiatives.
The complaint also claims New Jersey’s purported “name and shame” policy, in which the attorney general has tried to connect Smith & Wesson with “crime guns,” is an extra-legal attempt to branch the company as a bad actor.
“Smith & Wesson is a good corporate citizen that is a leader on gun safety initiatives in the industry,” the lawsuit states. “What the Attorney General seeks to do through his actions is impermissible as long as the guarantees of free speech and the right to bear arms remain in the Constitution.”
Smith & Wesson firearms have been used in several high-profile mass shootings over the last decade, including the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, in which a 19-year-old killed 17 students and faculty, and the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a 2012 showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” that killed 12 people.
In 2018, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that gun manufacturers would be listed in monthly reports showing the source for every “crime gun” recovered by police in the state.
Murphy said months after signing the executive order that he hoped “bringing light to this topic” would spur gun manufacturers to “act responsibly and work with us to stop weapons they make from ending up in the hands of dangerous criminals.”
State data show that more than 80% of the guns used in crimes in New Jersey came from outside of the state, with Smith & Wesson firearms among the heaviest-trafficked firearms into the state. According to the latest report, 48 Smith & Wesson-brand firearms were used in crimes in the state, the leader among all gun manufacturers.
Gun manufacturers have called the “Name and Shame” program unreasonable and purely agenda-driven, likening it to announcing which car was used in a drunk driving fatality.
“The intentional overreach of the facially invalid Subpoena and punitive intent of the Attorney General’s ‘name and shame’ initiative makes no sense as an exercise of prosecutorial authority, but they make perfect sense when seen for what they really are – the latest chapter in efforts by anti-Second Amendment Activists, hostile to the private ownership of firearms, to impose, through coercion, a gun control agenda which they largely have been unable to impose through federal or state legislative process or through the courts,” the 57-page complaint alleges.
Smith & Wesson has clashed with politicians before. In 2000, the company signed an agreement with President Clinton – which Smith & Wesson claims nearly bankrupted the company due to a decline in sales – to accept gun control measures.
While the company is most well-known for its pistols and handguns, which stem back to the 1800s, it also manufactures semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.
Smith & Wesson is represented by Christopher Strongosky of DLA Piper.
An email seeking comment from Grewal’s office was not immediately returned.